Thursday, March 27, 2008

French Mathematician Wins Abel Prize

The French mathematician Jacques Tits will share the Abel Prize with an American. Tits is being honored for his work in algebra. He is the inventor of the concept of a "Tits building," an algebraic structure made up of simpler structures called, appropriately enough, "apartments." Although I have a Ph.D. in mathematics from long ago, I'm afraid my expertise is out of date. I am not familiar with the theory of buildings. But it is good to see French mathematics honored. In my day the French were among the world leaders in several branches of mathematics, and their work was distinguished by profound insight coupled with the utmost elegance in form and expression. These qualities were among the things that first attracted my attention to France.

EU Military Operations in Africa

Judah Grunstein has an interesting piece on EU military operations in Chad. It seems that the scarce resource is not boots on the ground but logistical support. European troop movement capabilities are limited. Transportation had to be leased from a Ukrainian contractor, although Russia did supply eight helicopters. Troop transport is a prosaic business. It doesn't have the glamor of nuclear submarines or nuclear weapons and doesn't get the headlines. But without it Europe (and France, to the extent that it uses Europe for projecting its own force) remains impotent while consoling itself with the hypothetical ability to destroy any city anywhere on earth at any time. Of course impotence is a good way to stay out of trouble, but sometimes it's best not to avoid trouble, and when the time comes it's best to be prepared, as the Boy Scouts like to say.

Patrick Weil on University Reform

Noted scholar (historian of immigration) Patrick Weil offers a pertinent critique of the Pécresse Law on university reform in Marianne. In particular he observes that the partial autonomy granted under the Pécresse law has reinforced "localism and clientelism in the recruitment of professors," because it has increased the powers of locally elected university presidents. Instead of "free and open competition, which is a good thing," he says, students are still funneled into local universities, which therefore do not need to search for the best professors in order to compete for top students.

Local Color

Had Elaine Sciolino wanted to give the real flavor of quotidian France, she might have written about the developing scandal in the Hauts-de-Seine instead of about her butcher in the 7th Arrondissement. The affair involves any number of important names: Rachida Dati, the minister of justice, André Santini, the civil service secretary, and one Nicolas Sarkozy, president of the Republic but previously president of the conseil général of Hauts-de-Seine. And only in France would alleged corruption in a public works project revolve around the donation of a major art collection. Now, that is local color, Ms. Sciolino. With a little reportorial shoe-leather, you might have come up with something worth writing about.

Bertrand's the Winner

Yesterday I described a putsch in the making at the UMP. I predicted that Christian Estrosi would replace Patrick Devedjian. I was wrong. That honor goes to Xavier Bertrand, and Devedjian will remain in place alongside him (though he can no doubt read the handwriting on the wall). Estrosi figures in the putsch but will get only a special "functional" post created expressly for him. The whole maneuver was orchestrated by Sarkozy, according to Le Figaro.

Incidentally, a glimpse of Bertrand in action can be found here. He appears on a France Culture program with French Politics contributor Éloi Laurent. Bertrand is a smooth talker (as befits a former insurance agent), intelligent, quick on his feet, and entirely unflappable, a politician in the buttoned-down, well-groomed mold of François Fillon, whom he might well replace should Sarkozy ever decide that he needs a new prime minister. His promotion to the post of party leader is evidence that his star is rising rapidly.

Le Monde adds that Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet will also become a deputy secretary general of the UMP and says that Sarko chose her as a "counterweight" to Bertrand's "appetite for media exposure"--an appetite that the president is well-placed to judge as a connoisseur. Fillon is also said to be "wary" of Bertrand, no doubt for the reason adumbrated above, and to have insisted on denying him an expansion of his ministry's powers to include responsibility for labor. Instead, Fillon's former spokesman Laurent Wauquiez was assigned to Christine Lagarde as a deputy for labor issues.